Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hero Games: The Zombie Apocalypse

When last we left our hero, he had been thoroughly Held and beaten in the famous Hero Games Cage Match. After such a crushing defeat, where will our ferrous fighter go next?

Alright, so, ow. Maybe cage matches aren't really my thing. Excuse me, maybe they aren't really El Fierro's thing. I feel kind of bad for him; it must be embarrassing to get beaten that badly. Not that I'd know. But there's still one more option at the Hero Games: the mysteriously titled "Zombie Apocalypse". With a fair amount of hesitation, I cross my fingers and sign up for that one.

The Zombie Apocalypse Hero Game used to be one of my favorite parts of the game before they patched it to kill everyone right away. It is my enduring hope that they'll someday repair it.

In Zombie Apocalypse, everybody is put into a cabin full of civilian survivors with the goal of going outside and defending them from an incoming zombie horde, except for one player chosen at random who starts out as a zombie. There is no difference mechanically between your normal character and your character as a zombie, except you'll be given one of about half a dozen random zombie "costumes" to distinguish yourself from the living players. This, for example, is how Iron Will looked when he started on the zombie side.

He certainly looks like a zombie superhero, doesn't look much like a zombie Iron Will. Understandable, as there are so many options available in the costume creator that trying to make some kinda automatic "zombification" costume change for each individual character would probably look ridiculous more often than cool. Anyway, as a zombie, your goal is pretty simple: make your way to the cabin and try to kill all of the other players. It seems fairly difficult at first, as you're outnumbered at the beginning except for hordes of simplistic zombie NPCs that you fairly obviously stand out from. But, each survivor that you kill revives as another zombie hero on your side. The very beginning is the toughest part as a zombie, but it's easier to take one out when there're two of you, and easier with three. Eventually, the balance shifts entirely, unless the survivors really have their act together and manage to take you out over and over again before you can get even one of them. If the survivors last for a full fifteen minutes (or possibly twenty... I don't recall exactly) and stay within a certain radius of the cabin, they win. It happens (or used to happen) from time to time, and since Iron Will is built almost entire for defense and doesn't have any terribly strong attacks and no range to speak of, I expected it might go that way. So I was quite pleasantly surprised and a little perplexed when it took me less than three minutes to wipe out the entire survivor team.

Now, I'd like to take credit for this, but there were a number of factors at work that I had nothing to do with. Most notably, some of the survivors I squared off with were already half dead and on fire from something I didn't see at all. I was on fire too, but that was because one of the players hit me with a fireball; Iron Will has no fire powers to speak of, so why the survivors were on fire too is beyond me. One I beat up until he ran away too fast for me to chase, and then dropped dead from the flames after about fifty feet, and another I knocked across the clearing and simply didn't see again, as they were presumably eaten by the supposedly-weak zombie NPCs while I wasn't looking. Really, there was only one other player that I felt I actually beat, and the rest probably would have fallen to the zombie NPCs whether I'd been there or not.

Now, I hadn't played the zombie apocalypse pvp for a few months, and this was not how it used to go. The zombies I remembered were more of a distraction than a threat, basically just there to keep players from getting automatic out-of-combat healing and occasionally to hold them or interrupt charge attacks if they were being too blatantly ignored. These zombies completely devoured the players, and somehow set them on fire. Very curious. The second time around, I'm one of the survivors. You start in a cozy little woodland cabin surrounded by terrified survivors and a few other superheroes that, along with you, are all that stand between them and a gruesome death. In this case, a cyborg woman and some kinda demon guy. We headed outside to meet the horde.

Outside the cabin is a snowy clearing and several other cabins that look abandoned; possibly, we're standing it what would be the middle of a dirt road if the snow weren't covering everything.

I actually think they did a really good job conveying the general atmosphere of a winter night in the mountains. It's deathly quiet except for the crackle of the burning barrel and the occasional low howl of the wind, and you can't see much beyond the street except for what's silhouetted against the sky. Snow drifts slowly to the ground all around and all the characters (including robots and skeletons and the like, but oh well) breath is visible in understated clouds around their mouths. Very nice, Champions.

There's also an indistinct yellowish dome around the cabin and surrounding area. It's only inside this dome that your time spent alive is counted; if you lived through an entire match but did so by hiding out in the woods at some random corner of the map or hovering a mile over everything, your time at the end of the match will reflect it. There's also a timer with thirty seconds on the clock that starts ticking down whenever nobody's within the circle. If all the players scatter, leaving the cabin full of civilians to fend for itself, they have thirty seconds (non-renewing) to get back or the match ends in victory for the zombies. Similarly, if they spend thirty seconds inaccessible... either by teleporting around or tunneling, or by flight so high that they're out of the dome... the zombies win. A player can still hide or TP around if there's at least one survivor left inside the circle holding down the fort for the team, but this prevents the last surviving character from just drawing the match out forever by staying underground or fleeing. Unfortunately, people often forget about it and will charge into the ranks of the zombies to get their killin' in, and then find that they've lost even though they're still alive and actively fighting the zombies, simply because they've gotten too far from the cabin. Although, considering the justification for the scenario is that we're defending the cabin in the first place, it makes good sense.

Anyway, for a minute or so nothing happens, and there's no sound but the crunch of snow under the feet of the nervous heroes running around in circles outside the cabin. Then, at the edge of the light, we start seeing the outlines of humanoid forms shambling towards us. One or two at first, but more and more as the first ones start to reach the clearing. The undead have arrived! Everyone goes to work; the summoners make their little circles and whip out their turrets and pets, the fliers go to strafe the zombies meandering into the circle, the guys who don't quite get the goal of the game run headlong into the horde to get eaten, and I post up by the door of the cabin and clobber any undead face that approach mine eye.

So far so good. Soon enough some of the bigger ones start filtering in. There are skinny ones that can can grab you with their tongues (WHICH IS A TOTALLY ORIGINAL CONCEPT), big fat ones that can bite you and hold you in place, and tall ogre-looking ones that can spit acid at you. I zero in on one of the big ones and deliver a sharp uppercut to his WHAT THE HELL WHY AM I ON FIRE?!?

I'm not quite sure what's happening. Two of my teammates have already died somewhere and I have suddenly burst into flames. It's not the zombie character; I'd caught them out of the corner of my eye fighting with one of my teammates, and they're definitely a power armor type using lasers and machine guns and the like, no fire powers. So I'm a little perplexed until I notice that the zombies are exploding. Over and over again. Not just one kind, either. Like, all of them.

Apparently since the last time I played the zombie apocalypse scenario somebody at the company decided that giving the survivors a chance at winning the game was stupid, and it was much more entertaining for people to start dying the second the game starts and for the only goal to be outliving the rest of your doomed companions. I'm pretty sure I strongly disagree, if for no other reason than because the premise we're working under is that we're trying to protect the people in the cabin, and making that an impossible scenario is kinda bullshit. As the last of my teammates drops, burning and presumably confused, there's really no reason for me to do anything but hightail it into the woods and let the zombies win by running out the clock, but I can't just abandon all those people in the cabin, I decide. I'm surrounded by the ravenous undead and I'm the only thing standing between a dozen innocent people and a horrible death by supernatural cannibalism. The time for half measures and talk is over. This situation calls for desperate tactics. I don't like it, but once again I'm forced to resort to...

There! That ought to...

... What? NO BALLS?! Damn you, decomposition!

And I fall.

But, I fall last, at almost three whole minutes in, which I guess is the closest you can come to winning this game, now. Pretty disappointing; they were really on to something when they first introduced it.

Alright, that was one of the most unpleasant simulations I think anyone could have concocted, but I suppose it was pretty exciting. Never been a fan of horror movies myself, though, and that seemed to be more or less the holographic simulation equivalent.

Well, it's late, I'm humiliated and borderline traumatized, and even though it wasn't real, I swear I can still smell zombie on my fists. On the plus side, I have a luchador costume that I'm definitely holding on to, so the evening wasn't a complete waste. I wander back to the Bank And Trust and fold my mask and cape into my safety deposit box as surreptitiously as I can. A luchador isn't ever supposed to remove his mask, I think, but then, I'm not a full-time luchador. In fact, I, Iron Will, have never even met El Fierro, that handsome devil. Shhh.

My brief experiment with the Hero Games over, or at least on hold, I walk back out into the Renaissance Center. I swear I'll swing by that park and bother those guys for Defender first thing tomorrow, but first I want to check out the one place on Socrates' tour that I haven't been to yet: this Club Caprice place. It looks... interesting, at least.

I wonder if they'll let me in.

Up Next: A night out on the town, the MIND-BLOWING CONCLUSION!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Out On The Town

When last we left our hero Iron Will, he had found his way back to the miraculously restored metropolis of Millennium City, and was being tasked by the mighty Defender with such vital peacekeeping duties as bothering people in the park.

Well, it looks like I'm probably going to be spending a fair amount of time in this city if I'm going to commit to the whole superhero thing. I figure I might as well; no way are they going to let me onto the football team back in school if I'm eight hundred pounds and made out of metal. It just wouldn't be safe for the other players. And really, Daniel in Geology will probably get a much better grade without me as a lab partner anyway.

So, if this city's going to be my new stomping grounds, I suppose I oughtta look around a bit. I'm sure that the possibly shady characters in the park can wait for a couple hours to get harassed. Commence the walking tour!

Now, I don't trust her as far as I could throw her (and it must be kept in mind for this expression that she's firmly planted in the ground) but I'm hoping that the nearest Socrates terminal has at least a few utilitarian purposes and might have a map of the city or something, so I head back over there, which isn't very far from Defender's little security kiosk. I kind of bow my head and avoid looking over there, hoping that he'll simply mistake me for some other metal-skinned guy. Most places this would not work, but in this town...

I'm both pleasantly surprised and more than a little suspicious when Socrates chimes in that she'd be happy to give me a guided tour.

I'm also a little curious as to how she plans to do this, since her projector is built into the ground, but sure, what the hell. She marks spots on my map to check out, and I wander around the Ren Cen, as she insists residents call it, for a half an hour taking in the sights.

Among them are an UNTIL terminal, which apparently stands for United Nations Tribunal on International Law, and which seems to basically be a fancy needlessly holographic email station. I guess as phone booths are to cell phones, UNTIL terminals are to... modern cell phones. Well, since I don't have one, I suppose it's good to know it's here.

There's the Millennium City Bank And Trust, which boasts safety deposit boxes individually shielded against radiation and arcane energies, where they've already set aside a box for me free of charge! That's actually really cool of them; I'm starting to feel welcome already. It'll be pretty handy to have a spot to leave stuff I don't want to carry around with me. Granted, so far I don't have anything but this weird communicator Socrates is talking to me through which I don't actually remember getting (SUSPICIOUS!) and a pair of torn up jean shorts. Speaking of which, there's also a line of tailors who have set up shop under a big half-circular pavilion right by the center of the... center. They appear to cater to superheroes specifically, judging by the clothing articles they have on display like ninja hoods, spandex bodysuits, and random pieces of robotic looking armor. That's convenient, I suppose, although one wonders why they don't set up clothing stores like everybody else. They seem to be doing good business, though, judging by the crowd.

There's an auction house not far away, where I can apparently buy and sell things that other non-retailers put up to bid. That's kinda cool... I don't have any money stashed away, but I could always sell random stuff that I come across on my various jobs. I bet some collectors would pay a lot for a rare Tulzorgat Fetish, marital aid of the snow demon horde recently expelled from the frozen north. That's gotta be pretty rare. I should have held on to one of those. Oh well, next time.

And last but not least, the Super Jet, which is what I just flew in on. Apparently it's a dedicated jet that's only for dispatching superheroes to crisis zones around the world, maintained by donations from various charitable parties. Now THAT will be handy. Plus, I guess the fact that I rode it here means that I'm already a superhero in the eyes of whatever nonprofit maintains and flies it. Score!

Walking back down from the Super Jet's landing platform, though, I'm distracted by a giant amphitheater with a sign reading Hero Games.

That sounds familiar... didn't someone in Canada think I should join up for those? I wander over and see what they're about.

According to the promoter, it's more or less what I figured, a sort of UFC for metahumans. Well, I figure nothing's been able to hurt me much so far, and I do kind of miss individual sports where I didn't automatically have an overwhelming advantage... sure, I'll try one. Let's see how this goes.

There are two types of Hero Games matches available at a low level, Cage Match and Zombie Apocalypse. For now, we'll be going with Cage Match. Cage Matches are fairly straightforward. Players are divided into two teams, Red and Blue, which you'd think would be auto-balanced but are usually at least somewhat lopsided, and then thrown into a ring with the rather simple goal of assisting everyone on your team and pummeling everybody on the other team. Scoring is based on kills for the entire team, and the first side to 15 wins. This can be done either by beating each of five opposing players three times, or picking on the the little one and killing him fifteen times, up to you.

Now, the problem with cage matches is that, for whatever reason, they seem to be the primary hangout of munchkins. For what seems to be the vast majority of players in cage matches (hereafter referred to as "virgins" out of pure spite), character concept or theme is de-emphasized or ignored outright in favor of the most mathematically effective hodgepodge of powers for preventing the opponent from moving. Many have spent a significant amount of time memorizing the ins and outs of the game mechanics and copying other people's characters off of forums to tweak for maximum lockdown effectiveness. You'll hear a lot of words like "builds", "spike damage", "roots", and "holds", and will likely spend the majority of each match either like this:

Or like this:

The average build for a non-you cage match gamer will be a pile of unrelated defenses, at least two ways to immobilize you, a ranged attack they can charge while you're immobilized that will do a lot of damage really quickly without exposing them to the risk of being hit themselves, and Teleport so they can flee if it looks like you might have a chance to do something. Do not bother trying to inform a Virgin that this is both lame, uncreative, and makes the fight - the winning or losing of which you didn't actually care about because career stats aren't even tallied - no fun whatsoever for half of the people involved. They will not understand.

And that's how it goes.

H... huh? Wha? Last thing I remember my feet were frozen to the ground and some cyborg was shooting me with arrows.

Alright, so that was humiliating. These guys are genuine professional prize fighters, it might have been silly to think that I could just walk in off the street and compete. I just don't have the training, the fans, the look...

... Hmmmmm...

I head back to the tailor in the middle of the center. To my pleasant surprise, they don't ask for money, as apparently superheroic reputation doubles for currency around here. Awesome. So, I'll just need that... and this... and do you have these in my size...?




I am READY. If there's one thing that Pro Wrestling taught me, it's that a star theme at least doubles your chances of victory! ... Besides, the tailor didn't have any creepy green lizard man masks.

Iron Will will no longer be competing in cage matches. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the newcomer EL FIERRO to the ring!

Let's see how they like me now!